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Developments in Climatology in Australia

Australian Climatology Before 1946

Climate Monitoring

Climate Prediction

Climate Change

The Current State and Future of Climatology



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The Current State and Future of Climatology (continued)

There are, however, threats to this new picture of climate science. All these 'new' climate organisations will still rely on the availability of a quality-controlled net-work of climate stations. The colonial meteorologists, with very limited resources, managed to establish excellent observing systems across the country, although these did use a variety of instrumentation and observing practices. Hunt, the first Commonwealth Meteorologist, within a couple of years of taking office, had consolidated the observational program, standardising instrumentation, exposure and observing practices. By the 1960s Australian climate data was in excellent shape, but by 1976 the Academy committee on climatic change felt it needed to warn that the 'maintenance and improvement of (the Australian climate) data bank is of national importance'.

Two decades later and climate data across the world is under increasing threat. So Karl et al. (1995) observe that 'Even after extensive re-working of past data, in many instances we are incapable of resolving important aspects concerning climate change and variability. Virtually every monitoring system and dataset require better data quality, continuity, and homogeneity if we expect to conclusively answer questions of interest to both scientists and policy-makers . . . the continued degradation of conventional surface-based observing systems in many countries (both developed and developing) is an ominous sign with respect to sustaining present capabilities into the future'. This has occurred at the same time as public and political interest in climate has risen. This situation recalls the situation with Queensland weather observations around the rum of the century. Clement Wragge had established a superb observing system throughout Queensland in the last decades of the 19th century. But a severe drought at the turn of the century led to its dismantling, because of reduced Government funds. We must ensure that our future capability to monitor, predict and understand the climate is not similarly undermined, just as the need for climate information peaks.

For much of the past 50 years, operational climatology in Australia has been the equal of that anywhere in the world. Especially during the 1960s the data archiving was superb, in world terms, as was the operational use of these data in maintaining a national drought watch system. Resource limitations, and a greater focus on daily weather prediction, during the 1970s and 1980s somewhat diminished the Australian efforts in climatology. We are now not in the lofty position we once were, relative the rest of the world. For instance, apart from major cities, daily meteorological observations prior to 1957 have not been digitised. Yet these historical daily observations are of crucial importance for assessing if and how the climate has changed. Without these observations we are unable to determine whether the climate is becoming more or less extreme, as we perturb the atmosphere with enhanced greenhouse gases and aerosols.

In some areas, however, Australian operational climatology still leads the world. In operational seasonal climate prediction, and climate variability monitoring, the systems we have in place, within the Bureau of Meteorology and elsewhere, are at the forefront of the science, and research funders have recognised the opportunities to enhance the current capabilities. Australian expertise in these areas is sought internationally by other organisations and countries eager to apply similar technologies to the monitoring and prediction of climate. The international role of Australian operational climatology owes much to the vision of W. Gibbs and, before him, to the colonial meteorologists and H. A. Hunt.

People in Bright Sparcs - Hunt, Henry Ambrose ; Wragge, Clement Lindley

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Nicholls, N. 1997 'Developments in Climatology in Australia: 1946-1996,' Australian Meteorological Magazine 46, 1997, pp. 127-135.

© Online Edition Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre and Bureau of Meteorology 2001
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher